Every month or two, it is a good idea to check your skin for new growths or other changes. With skin exams you can look for changes in your skin that might be cancerous. Everyone is at risk for skin cancer from current or past exposure to sunlight. If it is caught and treated early, most skin cancer can be cured.
Most changes in the skin are harmless and not cancerous. But some changes may be signs of disease. The type of skin cancer called melanoma is a very serious type of skin cancer because it can spread to other parts of the body.
Moles are small areas of darkened skin. Normally, they have a smooth, even border and are a single color. They may be beige, pink, or dark brown. Think of the letters, A, B, C, and D to remember the guidelines to find moles that may be harmful and should be checked by your healthcare provider:
If you have a mole that has any of these ABCD signs, see your healthcare provider.
Everyone should check their skin at least every couple of months. People with fair skin that freckles easily have a higher risk of skin cancer and may need to do a skin exam monthly. You can ask your healthcare provider how often you should examine your skin.
In addition to doing routine skin self-exams, you should have your skin checked regularly by your healthcare provider. Your provider can do a skin exam during visits for regular checkups.
See your provider if you have a mole that concerns you. Also see your provider if you have a lot of moles, for example, 50 or more.
Here is how you can do a skin self-exam:
See your healthcare provider if you have any lumps, moles, or sores that grow in size, change color or shape, bleed, are painful, or do not heal. Sometimes your provider may want to remove a mole so that the tissue can be examined under a microscope. The removal of a mole, sometimes called a biopsy, is usually done in your provider's office. You will first be given a local anesthetic to numb the skin. It generally takes only a few minutes. Depending on how big or how deep a mole is, you may need stitches, and there will be a small scar after your skin heals.
Because most moles do not develop into melanoma, removing all of them is not necessary. Your provider will recommend when a mole needs to be removed. Usually, the moles that need to be removed are ones that:
If you have already had skin cancer, you should be sure to have regular exams so that your provider can check your skin. Your provider will look at the treated areas and other places where cancer may develop.
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